By Peter Holstein
Surgeon General Public Affairs
FALLS CHURCH, Va. — During National Nurses and Technicians Week (May 6-12), the Air Force Medical Service is recognizing the unique contributions of Air Force nurses to the nation’s defense.
Maj. Dino Quijano, a critical care nurse in the 779th Medical Operations Squadron based at Joint Base Andrews, Md., and a recent recipient of the Bronze Star, is a great example of the kind of remarkable Airmen who make up the Air Force Nurse Corps.
Quijano and his Mobile Forward Surgical Team, recently returned from deployment to the Middle East in extremely challenging conditions. On May 3, 2017, the entire MFST was awarded the Bronze Star, recognizing their meritorious service and actions to save lives during the deployment.
“The environment we worked in was pretty austere,” said Quijano. “For the majority of our deployment we didn’t have running water or consistent electricity to take care of our patients. We used bottled water to clean and irrigate wounds and a portable generator to power our equipment.”
During the ceremony, Col. Leslie Knight, 779th Medical Group commander, praised the team for their courage and dedication.
“They were called upon on short notice to serve in a very hostile environment, where they cared for a number of wounded and injured servicemen,” said Knight. “Their performance under duress was nothing short of incredible and they made such great contributions to austere medicine and surgery that their lessons learned will impact this field for generations.”
When asked what made his team so successful, Quijano credits the teamwork and group dynamic that emerged under formidable conditions. As for his personal drive to succeed as an Air Force nurse, Quijano referenced his parents (his mom was a nurse, and his dad served in the U.S. Navy) and his patients.
“A lot of us join the medical field, especially nurses, because we have that compassion and desire to take care of people,” said Quijano. “Our military personnel are truly heroes, and it really makes you appreciative of what they do, and it makes me incredibly proud to support them, to help them get back into the fight to support and protect our country. You hear their stories, and it’s inspiring to help get them back on their feet.”
As a flight commander with more than 50 nurses and medical technicians under his command, Quijano has no illusions about the difficulties of being a nurse, especially in the critical care environment.
“A lot of time in the nursing field, you hear that nurses eat their young,” said Quijano. “Nursing is a very stressful job, especially for new nurses. You hear stories about nurses getting burnt out because they haven’t gotten the support and mentorship that they need to succeed.”
“That’s what I want to avoid as a commander. I want to be a leader who is also a mentor, and train my staff to be good communicators and foster the generation of Air Force nurses that come after them.”
Quijano actually began his military career as a critical care nurse in the Naval Reserve, working in civilian hospitals before joining the Air Force as an active duty Airman. In his long and varied career, he continues to find inspiration from the men and women in uniform he cares for. One patient has stayed with him for a long time as a particularly poignant memory, a young Army Captain that Quijano helped transport from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, back home to the United States in 2008.
“I went to the ICU to assess the patient and prep for the mission,” said Quijano. “I remember going in and seeing the patient was my age, had a wife about my wife’s age, and had three kids about the same age as mine. He had been badly injured and was looking at the possibility of severely diminished quality of life once he returned. But to see the optimism and thankfulness from his wife for what we were doing was very emotional for me. I could see myself in that young Captain. For me to provide care for him, and help get him home was incredibly fulfilling, and really drove home that what we were doing is worthwhile.”
Quijano is well aware that as an Air Force nurse, he is part of a special group of Airmen who are committed to the Air Force Medical Service goal of Trusted Care Anywhere. And while he is grateful for the award he received last week, Quijano is also quick to give credit to the other men and women he serves with every day.
“With this Bronze Star presentation, to be honest, I was a little embarrassed to get all this attention. I’m honored and humbled by the recognition, but there are folks out there who are doing amazing things every day,” said Quijano. “You have pararescue in the field risking their lives under fire to take care of our troops and doctors, nurses and technicians working long hours in the hospital every day at home and abroad. We were sent out there and did the job we were supposed to.
“From everyone I’ve met in the Air Force and military medical fields, you can see the motivation and emotion when they take care of patients. I’ve been honored to work with some incredible nurses, technicians and physicians, and everyone always comes together to provide the best patient care.”